Look at the charming old bridge at West Tanfield. Keep looking. You’ll spot it eventually. A close-up shot is not an option.
It’s been around since 1734. JMW Turner sketched it in 1816. Tour de France riders hurtled over it in 2014. It’s a fine place to stand and look at a Proper English Village View.
But today, I had a surprise. I saw a small clump of toadflax had chosen to grow on the very top, just where I was leaning over. A fine addition, I thought.
Three years ago, plans were hatched for an annual Tour de Yorkshire.
This year, le Tour once again passed the end of our drive.
We watched the Women’s Race from the end of our road, and had a happy low key morning chatting to neighbours we knew, and neighbours we hadn’t previously met. Police motorbikes sped past, support vehicles, a helicopter above, then the riders themselves, followed by more support vehicles, more police, and finally, a couple of women riders who were never going to make it into the winning cohort, but were giving it their best shot anyway .
During the afternoon though, I sauntered into West Tanfield to watch the Men’s Race. I arrived to find a party atmosphere. There, amongst all the stalls on the village field, was the Big Screen showing the progress of the Tour in real time. Just look though. Just as in ze Tour de Fraunce, everysing eez in Frainch. ‘Tour de Yorkshire’, ‘Le Côte de Lofthouse’, ’29 avril 2017′. It’s a sweet little homage to the Tour de France, without which …..
I’d missed the caravan giving out freebies. A friend told me that in Health and Safety conscious England, these aren’t chucked randomly out of publicity vehicles. Instead the vehicles stop, and small teams amble among the crowds, giving out flags, batons, shopping bags. She said it was rather nice and added to the party atmosphere.
A hot air balloon was moored near the pub. We didn’t find out why, as it never became airborne.
As the Big Screen informed us the riders had reached Masham, we started to line the streets. Volunteer Tour Makers shooed us onto the pavements, and we waited …. First of all, police motor bikes. Then this vehicle, complete with Man with Microphone. ‘Allez, allez allez’, he yelled. ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’, we yelled back. ‘Allez, allez, allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’. ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’, ‘Allez!’ ‘Oi!’ ‘Allez, allez, allez!’ ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’
Then this, the moment we’d been building up to.
They were gone. More support vehicles, and a final one telling us it was over.
We all wandered off, perhaps to check out the big screen showing the riders going through Ripon. As I left the village, the dustbin men were already clearing the streets. The party was over.
Step out into the garden, and the countryside beyond at the moment, and you’ll find snowdrops doing what they do best in January – piercing the barren earth, colonising grassy patches, nestling under trees and marching across gladed hillsides. Untroubled by unseasonal weather, their inner clocks direct them to grow, multiply, and cheer us all up in an otherwise gloomy, un-festive sort of month. That’s Nature for you: ordered, seasonal and predictable.
But Nature has another face. Come with me beyond the garden, past the fields slickly shimmering with surface water, to the banks of the River Ure. Just two minutes walk from here, it makes a wide sweeping curve away from its route from West Tanfield, and (normally) meanders gently into Ripon. That was before this winter, this rain, this unending water.
Once the rains came, and once it reached town, the River Ure rather wanted to swamp people’s gardens and make a bid to enter their houses. Recently-built flood defences put paid to that idea. The River Ure took its revenge on us, or more specifically, on the farmer whose fields adjoin us. Up in the hills, waters from streams and rivulets in the Dales cascaded into the Ure, which gushed and surged along its course, rising higher and higher, tearing at the banks, ingesting great clods of earth and forcing them downstream. The water levels are falling now. The damage remains.
Look. Here’s a chain link fence which marks a pathway running along the edge of the farmer’s field. It should be on terra firma, with a nice grassy margin between the fence itself and the river bank. Now it has nothing to hold onto. The bank has been snatched away, and the fence is hanging crazily and directly over the swelling waters below. The earth has slipped, and continues to slip. The farmer is losing his field, and the river is changing course. There’s not much anybody can do about it.
We’ll watch the water awhile, and frighten ourselves witless at the prospect of falling in and being swept mercilessly away. Then we’ll wander back though the woods, and enjoy the snowdrops and aconites once more. Nature takes its course.
Not much more than a mile up the road is West Tanfield. It’s an ancient village that already existed when the Domesday Book was written in 1086. Its inhabitants might say though that the most recent chapter in its history was written only last year, when the Tour de France passed through the village. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge dropped by in a helicopter to watch the riders hurtle down the hill from Masham, over the old bridge and on to Ripon. They took the time to walk through the village talking to as many people as they could. It’s a memory many locals treasure (I’m thinking of you, Penny!)
As you walk through the village yourself, you’ll notice a tower next to the 13th century parish church. That’s the Marmion Tower. It’s a 15th century gatehouse, and is all that is left of a vanished manor house that belonged to the Marmion family. As the direct line of this family ended, the succession passed first to the FitzHugh family, then the Parr family. You’ll have heard of them. William Parr was brother to Catherine, the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII.
It took me till yesterday to go and explore the remains of this tower. It might look like a castle, but there’s no evidence that it was ever designed to offer real protection. There’s no portcullis to the gatehouse, no narrow windows through which to loose offensive arrows. It’s a three-storey tower, which provided accommodation of reasonable comfort for the time, though the extremely narrow twisting staircase is a bit of a challenge. Although large, the rooms are domestic in scale. They offer splendid views over the River Ure and the fields and woods beyond, and on one side, over the village itself. One of the windows is a beauty in its own right. It’s an oriel window – a kind of bay window – projecting from the first floor of the tower.
It’s ‘worth a detour’. And afterwards, you can go and sit in the gardens of the pub next door, the Bull, and relax over a drink in the picturesque surroundings of the river with the church and tower beyond.
Today, I rejoined the human race. For the first time since before Christmas, I got up, got dressed, looked out of the window – and wanted to be out there, in the bright and frosty sunlight. Malcolm’s recovery is a good day or two behind mine, but I hope that he too is on the way up.
I wasn’t up to a hike. I wasn’t even up to a stroll to the village shop, only a mile and a half away in West Tanfield. But I was up to a riverside amble, particularly when it meant coming upon little clumps of snowdrops on the woodland floor, already unsheathing their white faces to greet the winter sun.
If the snowdrops are out and about, truly, all’s right with the world.
Today was indeed a misty morning. Ripon has no fewer than three rivers in town, and a canal too, and one of those three rivers, the Ure, passes our back door. So it’s no surprise that we do ‘misty-moisty’ mornings, evenings and nights on a regular basis.
But mistiness is no excuse not to walk the mile and a half along the Ure to visit the village shop at West Tanfield to buy a Sunday paper. Here’s my journey:
This is how the old nursery rhyme goes:
When cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man clothed all in leather.
He began to compliment, and I began to grin,
How do you do, and how do you do?
And how do you do again?
Though I didn’t meet any old men clothed all in leather, I did meet quite a few dog-walkers. And quite pleasant chats were had with nearly all of them
The final post about le Tour de France. I promise. Because it’s actually over, as far as Yorkshire’s concerned. And as far as poor old Mark Cavendish is concerned too.
But Saturday was all about Stage One of the Tour. Up early, I dashed over to the next village, West Tanfield, to buy a paper before the road closed for the day. Six mini buses were disgorging security guards who immediately took up positions round the streets. What could be going on? Later, I found out. ‘Wills and Kate’ ( the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to you, please), due to open the Tour at Harewood House between Leeds and Harrogate, were to be helicoptered into West Tanfield at 1.00 o’clock. Later still, we discovered that my friend Penny was among those who had been presented to the Royal couple – and to Prince Harry too – since her husband’s Chair of the Parish Council there.
West Tanfield would have been a good place to be for other reasons. The riders swoop down a hill into the village and make a sharp turn over a narrow stone bridge before the long straight run into North Stainley. So there were vans from radio stations, cranes ready to hoist TV cameras aloft, and would-be spectators galore, already taking their places at prime spots and keeping the local pub and shop busy.
But we’d decided to stay put. Daughter and family had come over from Bolton and we decided that we should profit from the fact that the Tour actually passed the end of the drive. We sauntered down to the village to the stalls on the cricket pitch, and watched a little of the early action on the big screen in the village hall. Back home, we spent a happy quarter of an hour chalking ‘Ey up, Laroque’ on the road to greet all our friends in France when the TV cameras passed over. It worked, as my camera shot of the TV screen proves. But it only lasted a second and nobody but us saw it. Ah well.
What we saw though were billboard adverts that appeared for the duration all along the roadside for companies that don’t exist in England – PMU, Carrefour – and which had already disappeared an hour after the racers had passed through.
Then, finally …. tour officials in their Skodas…. British police on motorbikes….. French gendarmes on motorbikes….. support vehicles… and the publicity caravan. It wasn’t as extensive as it had been in France, but there WERE vehicles advertising French companies we don’t have in the UK, as well as British ones too. The total haul of freebies my grandchildren had thrown towards them consisted of two Skoda sunhats and a key ring. And then …….. the riders. Amazingly, after five hours up hill and down dale they were still riding in a solid phalanx, whirring towards us as a purposeful army. And then…. they were gone. Team vehicles loaded up with spare bikes aloft, more police and ambulance support followed…. and it was over. For us. Time to switch on the television and follow the action into Harrogate.
Disappointingly, my crop of Tour photos is exceptionally poor. So I’ll focus on a final look at North Stainley, which took the Tour to its heart, and delivered a very special homage to France and the Tour de France.
I’m not fully adapted to country life yet. Forward planning – or lack of it – is my failing. I haven’t yet learned to anticipate whether we’ll need more milk, potatoes or whatever before the next planned trip to The Great Metropolis (aka Ripon), and quite often find myself grubbing around at the back of the cupboard for acceptable substitutes.
Saturday, though, is the day we treat ourselves and buy the paper. There’s enough reading material there to get us through several days, and the sports section, discarded immediately, is perfect for any number of little jobs such as lining the rubbish bin. And yet today we had no excuse to visit Ripon, so would we have to go without our newspaper?
Well, no, there is another solution, but we have to reckon on leaving the house for well over an hour to complete the three and a half mile walk. The round trip to the paper shop involves leaving home along the path through the woods, walking along the riverside path to Sleningford Mill caravan site, dallying by the weir for a few minutes, battling along the narrow path now surrounded by chest-high spring flowers, and finally reaching the bridge at West Tanfield.
The shop in the village is where you’ll find most things. There’s food, drink, first aid and stationery – and a Post Office. There’s a community board where today I found news of someone selling chilli plants – I’ll be buying some of those . And there are newspapers. I bought our weekly fix. Then I set off home by a different route. Out of the village on the road, up the hill, turn right at a farm gate. The path here’s been slightly diverted, because the farmer’s made wide beetle banks to boost the number of farmer-friendly insects and spiders on his land. Through several fields of sheep, who come to inspect me, and along the drive of Sleningford Park, a country house. A final yomp along paths running alongside fields of wheat and barley, and I’m home once more.
It wasn’t quick. But I came home refreshed by the birdsong I’d heard; the sight of birds, rabbits, squirrels and sheep I’d passed; the flowers I’d spotted on the paths, different already from the ones I’d spotted only a few days ago; and all those country smells, from wild garlic to sheep dung to spring flowers. I’d had a better morning, I reckoned, than if I’d either gone without, or jumped in the car to grab a newspaper at the petrol station four miles away.